RESIDENTS battling plans that would see hundreds of lorries transporting millions of tonnes of pulverised power station ash past their homes have voiced exasperation that a council based nearly 60 miles away is set to decide whether to approve the industrial scheme for the next 25 years.

Villagers from Wormersley, Whitley, Great Heck and Cridling Stubbs, near Knottingley, said it was completely unacceptable that Northallerton-based North Yorkshire County Council would later this week set out to decide one of the most controversial planning applications it has dealt with in recent years by a Zoom meeting with very limited, if no public participation.

They said they had been left in disbelief that the authority’s officers had moved to recommend the proposal to extract and export about 23 million tonnes of ash from a 108-hectare area of Gale Common, near the A19, which started taking ash waste from Ferrybridge and Eggborough power stations in 1963, in the face of a 1,100-signature petition opposing the scheme.

The decision comes as the authority continues to argue the case to retain its boundaries in the formation of a new unitary authority, dismissing claims that it would not understand or be able to focus on important local issues right across England’s largest county.

The county council’s leadership has said it would devolve some planning decision-making to local groups, and that a critical mass of residents is needed for a unitary authority to achieve the best value for taxpayers.

Ahead of the planning meeting, EP UK Investments said the government had highlighted how there would be a significant shortage of pulverised fuel ash, which can be used for road construction, creating embankments or in cement and breeze blocks, in the short to medium term if alternatives to domestic direct-use supplies were not identified.

Despite the firm stating the venture would create more than 40 jobs, residents have maintained objections over the scale of the development, road safety, the vibration, noise, dust, emissions and light pollution it would create, the proposed hours of the operation and impact on wildlife that has established itself on the site.

Residents said the firm’s plans would involve more than 250 HGV movements a day, through the village of Whitley, which were intolerable.

One of the objectors, Paul White, of Wormersley, said the planning report prepared by Northallerton-based officers featured elements, such as noise projections, which did not ring true to those with local knowledge.

He said: “When the site was working we could hear the plant, and we will hear this every day of our lives for the next 30 years.

“If this is how a new unitary authority is going to work, it illustrates perfectly how North Yorkshire is too large, and Northallerton is too remote from the edges of the county.

“The planning office knows nothing of local conditions and cares nothing for local people, and I very concerned this decision is going to be made by councillors from miles away.”

The proposal has also received 22 letters of support for the use of the ash as an existing and potential sustainable resource, the potential for the site to become a public park and improvements to local roads.

In a detailed report to the meeting, the council’s planning officers highlighted how Gale Common had over the past 50 years, been within the West Yorkshire Green Belt which had been established to stop growth of the West Yorkshire conurbation.

It states: “The extraction of pulverised fuel ash is a mining operation, and very special circumstances do exist because of the potential that the pulverised fuel ash has as a source of secondary aggregate, and that outweighs any potential harm to the Green Belt because of inappropriateness, and any other harm resulting from the proposal.”

They concluded that “on balance” the benefits of using the secondary aggregate outweighed its negative aspects and safeguards could be put in place to ensure that the intensity of any impacts on residents could be effectively mitigated and controlled.